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Joseph Fontano

Joseph Fontano is a historic name, known as the spiritual father of contemporary dance in Italy. An Italian American dancer, choreographer, scholar and dance professor, he is also considered one of the founders of contemporary dance in the European country. A pupil and co-worker with contemporary dance legends, such as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, Fontano also danced with the Nikolais Dance Theatre in the United States.

The renowned Italian American also worked at the Laban Center in London and artistically directed the center's Transitions Dance Company. Since 1993 he has been a member of the Foundation Teatro Nuovo di Torino as a choreographer and founding member and the President of the World Dance Alliance Europe, WDA EUROPE (ITI/UNESCO) since 2005.

Fontano recently visited Havana as part of the 14th International Ballet Academies Encounter to teach his own method at the National Ballet School and the National Dance School, where he gave us his opinion on ballet, contemporary dance and other arts genres in Cuba:

- What are your impressions on the dance world in Cuba and what have you been able to teach on the island?

"My first impression is a very good one. It's been a surprise for me to find out how much support dance has in this country, but, in particular, how much dance is being supported. I've been to the Ballet School, where I've been able to work for a week with the dancers at this international encounter, teaching them about my technique, which has come out of many years of choreographic work and teaching students around the world.

"I've also been able to observe much dance, both classical and contemporary, because I also saw the National Contemporary Dance Company, which I found a very strong and interesting group, and I hope someday to be able to see more of its repertory, because I found it a very fine company.

"I've been to the School of Dance in a fantastic structure that I've seen in these days, where I think they have an interesting schedule of dance, but things could be more reinforced with new approaches to contemporary dance, so I hope maybe my stay here opened a window onto the type of dance that is going on within academic structures today."

- I understand you would like to have some exchanges with these Cuban dance institutions, dance schools or ensembles in the future. What would those exchanges be?

"It would be wonderful to have some students from here come to study abroad and bring some students to study here, here they would find a very strong classical technique, and I think some Europeans need that. I think that classical dancers instead maybe need to relax a little in order to be more flexible in their arms and their upper bodies so as to be able to express more than just technique.

"I had a fantastic experience because I went to see the School of Circus and there it's just wonderful, and in a strange way, some of them have more art than some of the classical dancers, because they put in more heart into what they do, more expression, so sometimes dancers forget that dancing is not only technique, it's something else.

- I understand that you would like to bring a group of Italian students to get trained here and maybe stage a piece for next year's contest or maybe for the Contemporary Dance Ensemble?

"Yes, that's part of the program for the 50th anniversary of the Contemporary Dance Company in 2009 and I would have a piece for them, and also bring, as I said, 15 or 16 students to work here within schools and get knowledge but it could also be an exchange for the students, who are also here. Maybe they would not have the possibility to go abroad and see things here that we might bring for them."

- And now, let's talk about your current work.

"I'm President of the World Dance Alliance Europe since December 2005. I've been working with the National Academy of Dance in Rome, which is our university, and I've been one of the pioneers of the contemporary dance degree, which didn't exist until three years ago, so I'm part of what we call the Academic Council and have written the transformations for the contemporary dance degree.

"It's a three year degree, it's like a B.A. and then we have a specialization, which is like a Doctorate, but it's not exactly a Doctorate, it's a specialization for dance teachers."

- You taught some practical classes and delivered some theoretical lectures on your dance teaching method while you were here in Cuba. What is your method based on?

"I teach what today is known as 'release based technique', which comes out from the 1970's, it has within it an idea of using weight, breath and free flowing movement through the use of other techniques, Graham, Cunningham, Limon.
I added on to this the usage of Laban technique which comes from Western Europe, and others. The movements are performed within a special area, where they are projecting to and where they are coming from, so the technique is also based on creativity, trying to give dancers the opportunity to dance as they want, and that dance exist only at the moment in which they are moving and they have to acknowledge this"

- What did Cuban dance professors and students react to your method?

"I have felt a very positive reaction, such a positive reaction that they've asked me maybe to come back and teach a course for teachers, which would be a wonderful thing. People said: 'Oh, come and stay here for three months', but I don't know if it's going to be possible, it's quite difficult. Maybe we could set up at least a month to come back and teach my approach to teachers like I do in my academy, because I teach dance teachers how to teach, how to prove what they are doing already through my method and my thirty five or almost forty years of activity in the dance world."

- Talking about your dance career, I understand you have a small dance group and you danced with many outstanding dancers and companies.

"I studied dance in New York with Paul Sanasardo, I was born of Italian parents in New York City but I'm Italian where I live and work today. I studied dance with Martha Graham and Alvin Nikolais and from these people I've been able to absorb various concepts of contemporary dance, not only technique but also concepts of dancing, because when you dance a choreography, you are getting into an intimate base that they have created, not only a technique.

"I have a group of five dancers in Rome, they work with me and do many, let's say, crazy things, since it's a group that has been with me for a while. It's not an official company; I choreograph freelance whenever they call me. I also constantly work with the Teatro Nuovo di Torino, which has a dance company, and since 1989 I've been a founding member of its Foundation.

"I just want to add that I've been very happy to have been invited to Cuba and I hope to be invited back soon and I want to thank very much the Directress of the National Ballet School, who has opened this invitation to me and to all of the ministries that have been behind this."


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